TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: THE BEST PEOPLE &Interview w/ writer Selina Ringel

We’re on a roll! Today we’ve got yet another insights into an indie film screening at TCFF. This time we’re featuring the writer of The Best People, Selina Ringel, a solid dramedy our reviewer calls ‘a must-see at TCFF.’ An emotional roller-coaster in the best possible way, it’s a story by and about women.

Just as she is recovering from a breakdown, Anna’s world is rocked when her younger sister gets engaged. She teams up with the alcoholic best man to break up the engagement; convinced they are trying to save her sister, his best friend, and themselves from a lifetime of misery.

Review by Holly Peterson

Make sure that The Best People is on your list of films to see at this year’s festival. Actors Anna Evelyn and Claire Donald play sisters – who weirdly both have the same first name as their characters – who wind up living together after their mother dies and Anna has a mental breakdown. The two could not be more different. Claire, the younger sister is an organized, accomplished woman in her early twenties. Anna, the older sister, can’t hold down a job, struggles to find the desire to get her life on track, and is probably an alcoholic. When Claire falls in love, Anna can’t handle it and the hijinks ensue.

Dramedies are not easy to pull off, but The Best People does it well. Characters struggle with substance abuse, death, jealousy, broken relationships, mental illness, and more; but the story arc is light enough that the comedic scenes (vagina yoga!) work as pallet cleansers.

Claire Donald as Claire
Anna Evelyn as Anna

Most of the performances in The Best People are solid, but Evelyn especially is a force throughout. From moments like the first scene, in which she gives a long expositional monologue that literally sets up the entire movie, to the tiny choices that she makes as a background character, Evelyn owns this movie. Her interpretation of a broken character with a thick shell and a tendency to lash out somehow still brings in the audience and effectively asks them to empathize with an unlikable character.

There are a lot of things to love in this movie. It is peppered with exactly the kind of manipulative sound design that we all expect in the genre. The incorporation of modern technology is perfect. And it’s a story by and about women.

If you are looking for something that can make you laugh, cry, and want to call your sister the moment you get out of the theater (or maybe you should just bring her with you!) this is the film for you. Jump on the emotional rollercoaster that is The Best People. You won’t regret it.

 

Q&A with writer Selina Ringel

Interview questions courtesy of Holly Peterson

What was the inspiration for this story? 

I got married very young for LA ( actually to the director of this movie!) and had a few people in my life react in an interesting way. I wanted to delve into the point of view of a character who felt like they were loosing everything when their best friend (sister) gets married. I wanted to explore what it means to feel behind, how hard it is to watch someone you love become closer to someone else and how we come to accept ourselves where we are without judgement. 

Why do all of the actors have the same name as their characters? How was the casting process since you also did casting for this film? 

We actually cast people we had already worked with before. I wrote the script with these actors in mind so I was writing from their voice, not as the characters but as the voices of the actors who we cast. 

What do you hope people take away from their viewing of The Best People

I hope people laugh and cry, but also realize that we spend most of our lives pointing the finger at others for things that don’t go right in our lives, but most of the time we aren’t looking at the real issue which is usually us. We can only control how we react to things and ultimately, growth is realizing we have the capacity to be better versions of ourselves but it takes looking inward instead of pointing outward. 

How has reception been so far? 

Honestly it’s been amazing, we’ve had an incredible festival run, multiple full theatres, we won Best Comedy Feature at WorldFest Houston and was selected as the Closing Night movie for Dances with Films with a full 500 person seating at the famous Chinese theatre in Hollywood. We are excited to have Shoreline Entertainment as our sales agent for the film. I feel incredibly lucky and in awe of what can happen when you just decide to go for it, we are obviously also surrounded by incredibly talented people which made the film possible and a huge support system from our families and friends but it really takes a lot of work, time, determination and passion to get a movie made and the truth is you never know where its going to land. You wonder if it will be seen, well received, etc so this has a been a dream come true for us. 

What are some highlights of creating this film, particularly for you as a writer?

One of the highlights for me was working side by side with my husband Dan Levy Dagerman who directed the film. He is such a smart, authentic director who really listens and gives the actors space to breathe and perform their best work. I think sitting by his side every day next to the monitor was a dream come true. He also would read all my pages and give me notes, we would talk through things, get obsessed together.

Another huge blessing was having such talented actors who helped the words come alive and on many occasions improv’d lines and made them better than what I wrote. I also think every crew member added so much to the production value and energy of the set. I really do joke with my husband that I’m not sure it gets better than this, although I hope it can always feel this beautiful and serendipitous!


TCFF Screening Dates:

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 8:15 PM


Thanks so much Selina for chatting with FlixChatter!

TCFF 2018 Film Spotlight: SAVING FLORA & interview with writer/director Mark Taylor

Since we’ve past the halfway mark of the Twin Cities Film Fest, I think I have seen enough movies to indicate which ones have been my favorites. Well, Saving Flora is definitely one of those that I thoroughly enjoyed and I can see myself watching again! Thank you Mark Taylor (and Synkronized Films) for taking the time to chat with me!

Flora is a circus elephant who can no longer perform her tricks. The night before she’s scheduled to be euthanized, the circus owner’s 14-year old daughter, Dawn, sneaks Flora from the circus. All that stands between them and the safety of the elephant preserve is two hundred kilometers of woods, one raging river, two elephant hunters and the fear of not making it.

How did this project come about for you and what’s the inspiration for the story?

I was a creative director at the advertising agency Saatchi in Los Angeles and was getting frustrated creatively and wanted to writes a story that I felt had some sort of meaning, something that had soul. I’d always loved family films and knew how influential my favorites ones growing up had been to me. I knew that I was going to want to direct this story also as just handing it over to an already established film director was going to short change my creative journey. I stories that depict the relationship between a child and an animal and having trained as an advertising Art Director I do tend to see things very visually. What better visual than a small child and an elephant. It was important for me that the young child was a girl, I have many strong females in my life one of which was my seven year old daughter Maya. It was easy to see her making such a journey with an elephant if she had the desire. I started writing Saving Flora with my writing partner David (at the time also a fellow creatively frustrated ad guy), we both love animals  and although against animals in circuses we also knew we had to have compassion and an understanding of circus life .

David Arquette as the ringmaster

2. There’s always something so mystical and maybe dark about the world of circus, but yet Saving Flora has a lightness and sweetness to it given it’s a family film, was that tough to achieve that balance?

Yes, as I mentioned before, David and I are very much animal lovers but we did spend time with former circus owners and performers and Flora (Thai) herself. Everyone we met was extremely loving and caring and there was very much a family vibe amongst them all. We never intended this story to be a statement about elephants in circuses but a story about the bond between a girl and an animal.

3. I would like to ask you about casting, but firstly I’m curious how it was working with elephants as your directorial debut. Were there a few elephants cast as Flora?

There was only ever one elephant cast and that choice was a no brainer. We visited Thai and her owners a number of times before the shoot. She’s amazing. Not only had she been in a number of films before but she is an older elephant also and her story in some ways related to Floras. Elephants cost a lot of money to feed and keep every year and she is not funded by a charity Thai has to work for her keep. Indians weddings mostly. She is very much loved by her owners and you can feel their concern for the years to come.

Thai (playing Flora) with Jenna Ortega

4. I adore Jenna Ortega as Dawn, she is completely charming and believable in her relationship with Flora. How did you find her, did you do a big casting process? The boy who played Sebastian is also pretty great.

We had looked at lots of girls to play Dawn but when Jenna was put forward she not only helped us define Dawn’s character but also define some of the tone of the film. Jenna’s latino heritage inspired our choices for casting the other characters also. It made us shake things up a bit and create a world that was a bit more representative of America.

Jenna Ortega as Dawn

5. How’s the process in getting the appropriate bond between Dawn and Flora for the film? 

That was easy. An amazing elephant and a fearless lead actress. The first scene they had to shoot together was Dawn lying down asleep on Flora. Thai lay down on her side and Jenna instantly crawled into her neck and snuggled up. It really was magical. 

6. Visually the film looks stunning. Where did you film this and how long was the entire shoot?

It was a 21 day shoot so we knew we had our work cut out for us, especially as we were essentially filming a road movie. We also needed to shoot with the 50 mile LA film zone. Luckily our location guy Frank was amazing. We settled on a private area of land called Newhall ranch, a little town with a train station called Piru, a few days at Piru lake and a day at Angeles Crest. Newhall ranch is 126,000 acres and within reason we could move around quickly and efficiently within it creating different textures and environments depending which way we pointed the camera. I always knew a circus, a girl and an elephant in the desert would look amazing but I was lucky  enough to have my friend and DP Michael Pessah on the film. I had directed a number of commercials that Michael had DP’d and we had developed a great working relationship based on trust and respect. We worked our asses off.

7. Lastly, what’s the most challenging part of the shoot, but on the flip side, what’s the most surprisingly delightful part of filming?

The most challenging part of the shoot was definitely the 21 days to shoot it in combined with the 4 to six hours of shooting time with the elephant for only ten days and the limited amount of hours you can shoot with a 15 year old. The surprising and very delightful part was the magic that happened in the filming. I was told that things would go wrong in the making of the film but I felt so blessed to be doing the film in the first place that I felt that if things did go wrong then they would go wrong for a reason and that reason was to make the film better. And I was right. Magic happens on set if you allow it to.



Thank you Mark Taylor for chatting with me!

Check out this TCFF red carpet interview with our host Doug Sidney:


Stay tuned for FlixChatter video interview w/ actors David Arquette and Tom Arnold at TCFF red carpet!

TCFF 2018 MN Film Spotlight: AMERICAN TENDER & interview w/ filmmaker C.J. Renner + lead actor Frank Foster-Bolton

I’m thrilled that I get to see not one but TWO films by talented filmmaker C.J. Renner this year. Earlier this Summer, TCFF showed the gangster thriller GUNN as part of their Insider Series in June. This time, C.J. and his longtime producing collaborator Sasha Michelle come up with another cool, stylishly-shot film that’s also set and filmed in the Twin Cities.

A Gen Z Bonnie and Clyde, the setting is deliberately simple but done with extended long takes that truly showcase the charisma of the two protagonists Nelle June Anderson and Frank Foster-Bolton, as well as the sharp script. I have to admit the hand-held camera style might make some people nauseous if they have issues with motion sickness, but the story is absorbing and intriguing that you want to stick around to see how it unfolds. The opening scene in the cafe is basically just two people bantering, but it’s amazing how the ‘less is more’ filmmaking sensibility can make quite an impact when done right.

Filmed in the Winter months, the cinematography by Tomas Aksamit (who also shot GUNN) is beautiful. The music by Nick Christopulos (who’s also the go-to sound guy for C.J. and he also did an amazing job in my short film Hearts Want) is also memorable and is an integral part to the storytelling style. After seeing a few of C.J.’s shorts and two of his features, he’s definitely a brilliant storyteller and filmmaker to be reckoned with. I hope he gets to do more films in the future!

She needed a fall guy to frame for a robbery, but when she suspects her partners of setting her up, her sucker is now the only one she can trust… not your average first date.

Q&A with filmmaker C.J. Renner

Q1. What’s the significance of the title?

After the first draft of the script (terribly titled, “Pennies” at the time) the most surprising thing that started to come through was how these two characters are unique to our time and place. Honing that with Frank and Nelle became a big part of pre-production. Exploring the subtleties of the way our young-20s leads discuss race, gender, politics, love became the most rewarding challenge of writing this film, and I think the only word that comes close to expressing that, for better or worse, is “American”. And “tender” hopefully conveys the dual flavor of the movie: both heartfelt (tender) and heist-y (legal tender).

Q2. Gunn was quite a novelty stylistically with the use of silhouettes, color, etc in storytelling. What’s evident in American Tender is the super long takes and that it’s very talky. How did you end up with this particular implementation to tell your story, particularly using the long takes?

I love a challenge, and as a filmgoer, I’m always excited to watch something bold. At every stage: writing, blocking, performing, and scoring- the real time storytelling was a huge difficultly. But at literally every stage, we discovered really exciting and necessary facets of the characters and story that would never have been captured if we didn’t have to perform, move, and rehearse in these incredibly long takes.

Q3. How long was the shoot overall and did you intend to shoot it in the Winter time?

We were firm on shooting in the winter… the visual of our Owen character walking out into the dead of winter, so in his head that he doesn’t consider his body, was a moment I wasn’t willing to give up. The actual shooting was insanely short; we shot the whole film in two weekends, but there was tons of rehearsal and blocking that occurred before that. The dance between the camera and actors was complex, and we didn’t have the luxury of tweaking individual line readings once the camera was rolling, so Nelle and Frank and I had to all be firmly on the same page about the way these characters interact at each step in the story before we started shooting.

Q4. Which part comes first for you… the concept of using long takes and hand-held storytelling, or the narrative story itself which calls out for that style of shooting? 

The story and the shooting style feed each other. I have a bunch of feature concepts I’m dying to make, anywhere from a couple sentences scribbled on a napkin to fully polished scripts, so I always feel like I have a healthy jumping off point. For me, the most exciting part of the process is asking the cinematographer, gaffer, actors, musicians, designers to be wildly creative and nakedly honest then doing my best to infuse their personalities into the story.

Q5. How was the casting process? Both Frank and Nelle are relatively new to acting, esp. as leads. Was that a deliberate choice?

Actually, they stole the roles in the auditions. We had two fantastic actors in mind (who we definitely will work with in the future), and we auditioned them and several other pairs. We could have made this with any of the pairs actually… they were all great in their own way. But there was genuinely something electric with Nelle and Frank… even in the quiet moments during auditions. It was a surprise, but a very exciting surprise. The first time we’d seen Nelle she was the lead in an opera… the casting director and I were blown away by this very young woman who was commanding the stage of all these huge, seasoned opera performers. But opera is so big, we didn’t expect her to be able to go to the subtle places she’d need to in this… but we discovered amazingly she brings that authority with even just a tiny look or a small movement.

Q5. Music is very effective here, just like in Gunn. As a filmmaker and musician, can you tell me a bit about the process of integrating your music into your film?

Huge thanks for the compliment! I’m really excited for people to hear this score. The guy who did the score, Nick Christopulos, was on board this project from its inception, so we had the luxury to discuss the score during blocking and production, to actually be able to say to an actor, “don’t verbalize that line, the score guy here is confidant we can accomplish that with a look and the music” is such an asset. Also, as soon as we had a lead with incredible opera pipes, Nick ran with the idea of using her voice as an instrument in the score of the film. Because music unashamedly crafts your mood when watching a film, having the voice of our lead in the score really adds an exciting window into her character’s headspace.

Q6. What’s been your cinematic inspirations in terms of story and style for this film?

I was able to have a long talk with the cinematographer of Victoria about the nuts and bolts of extreme long take filmmaking, he challenged us to change the scale (close-ups, long shots) as much as possible, which was fantastic advice. Band of Outsiders was another huge influence… it was a reminder to keep our characters playful with each other. And the current political climate had the whole crew feeling very rebellious… looking back, the production feels like a “f*ck you” to authority and filmmaking conventions.


Q&A with lead actor Frank Foster-Bolton

Q1. How do you prepare for your role?

Because we knew our shoot was only going to take place over two weekends, we started prep work months prior to production. At first it was just the four of us (me, Nelle, CJ, and Sasha) talking about the characters outside of the events of the film – motivations, insecurities, strengths, etc. After that the main focus was rehearsing the script to death and finding moments that would be special. The biggest leaps for me happen when everyone’s working in the room together, so preparing for that is super important. I like to start that process solo – taking a bunch of notes on every scene, getting the tone down, all that – so when we have full rehearsals and we’re exploring different ways to do the scene, I have a strong base to work from.

Q2. There’s a ton of dialog done in multiple long takes. Was there a lot of improvisation happening during shoot?

Dialogue improv was very limited on this project. Because the takes were going to be so long, and we were only going to get so many cracks at them, CJ, Sasha, Nelle, and I worked really hard on getting the words right. With the words set in stone, we didn’t have to worry about them. The idea, at least in my head, what that because we didn’t have to worry about the words, our body posture and movement came across as more natural. If anything I’d say that movements in the blocking were what we improvised the most.

Q3. What’s been the most challenging as well as most gratifying part to shoot?

As it most often is, the most gratifying thing on this project was entwined with the most difficult. The takes were very long, and because we weren’t going to be doing any cutting, everyone had to get everything right for a usable take. As you can imagine, it took a lot of hard work from the crew and the cast to get a 15-minute “sweet-spot” take. When it came together, and everyone was firing on all cylinders, it was such a reward. Those takes transported everyone on set to the world of our story, and made the end product all the more special.

Q4. How was working with CJ as writer/director?

Awesome. Traditionally we’ve worked together behind the camera (most recently I edited his film, Gunn, and he and Sasha produced a project I directed), so we have a pretty good understanding of each other’s taste and style. It was great getting to springboard off of our previous relationship into a new artistic dynamic. The big thing I learned about CJ: He knows what he wants to see in his movies. He has a big goal with each scene. Once you figure out how to accomplish that goal he kind of lets you loose on the character. So it’s a good balance of structure and freedom.

Q5. If you were on a first date playing the same game as in the movie, and your date asks you to do something way out of your comfort zone, what would you do?

Eat potato salad with raisins in it.


TCFF Screening Date:

Wednesday October 24th at 2:45 PM


Thanks so much C.J. and Frank for chatting with FlixChatter!

2018 TCFF Reviews – Belong To Us + Through The Windmill documentary

We’ve actually past the halfway mark for TCFF 2018! Wow, where has the time go? I can’t thank my blogging team enough for helping with the reviews and interviews! Special shout out to Holly Peterson for today’s pair of reviews! We’ve got a family film that’s in keeping with TCFF’s 2018’s Social Justice Cause (Changemaker Series), that is Animal Humanity, AND a fun documentary about miniature golf!


Reviews by Holly Peterson

BELONG TO US

An injured dog finds it’s way into the hearts of a family after escaping an underground dog-fighting ring.

Director: Patrick Rea
Writers: Kristin Rea

Belong to Us centers around a small family and a runaway dog. An animal-loving girl finds and falls in love with that dog – which recently escaped from a dog fighting ring. She names him Duke and sneaks him into her home with the assistance of her grandmother and big brother. The three of them hide the dog from the father: a well-intentioned man who is too preoccupied with his work and too hung up on his destroyed baseball career to be a good father to either of his children.

The biggest mistake that Belong to Us makes is that it takes itself too seriously and tries to do too much. Too much of the story relies on coincidence and overly dramatic events, and there are too many disjointed side stories that add little – if anything – to the overall story. What should be a cute, family friendly film is interrupted by a completely tangential love story and an unnecessarily dark side story about Duke’s dog fighting owner trying to find his dog. The movie clearly wants to argue that dog fighting is bad, but that point could have been made in a way that fit into the otherwise family friendly tone.

Most of the cast is great. Paige (Brooklyn Funk) and Decklin (Matthew J. Lindblom) are both great standalone actors, and their sibling chemistry is really fun. Lindblom is not a convincing teenager, but he makes up for the miscasting with a really solid performance regardless. Worth the ticket price alone, Kathleen Warfel was an absolute delight as the sassy grandma.

I wish that I could suggest this movie for families, but I’d probably respect the PG 13 rating. As it is, if you like feel good family movies and don’t mind a guy getting shot, beat up, and the friendliest bird flipping in the history of flipped birds, this is a fun one to add to your film fest roster. Plus, it’s one of our Changemaker films benefiting the Animal Humane Society! Yay puppies!


Through the Windmill

This film explores the past, present and future of miniature golf through the voice of the talented, often unsung, people who design, build and operate them.

Director: Amanda Kulkoski

If you enjoy people watching, you will love Through the Windmill. Producer and director, Amanda Kulkoski, finds some of the most unique golf courses across the United States and interviews the owners, artists, and fans that she finds at each one. Kulkoski spends the forward half of her film featuring older mini golf courses, most of which are still up and running and then essentially maps out what might be the greatest mini golf road trip of all time. She introduces us to a course centered around a giant (fake) volcano that explodes every twenty minutes, a course that is also a farm, and a golf course that is literally in the basement of a mortuary. And more. So much more.

Over the course of the film it becomes apparent that there is a particular variety of whimsy inherent to those who love mini-golf. The characters that Kulkoski finds in her cross country trip – especially the owners of the courses – are incredibly interesting. Proprietors have been everything from governesses to artists to farmers to formerly disenchanted 9-5ers and, more often than not, their personalities are reflected by their courses.

I disliked Kulkoski’s choice to spend so much time pretending that mini-golf is dying – only to then feature the multitude of ways in which people are re-inventing the pastime. Some courses closing and others opening does not have to be a pain point for the story to be interesting. Generally, the structure of the documentary was pretty haphazard, with historical tidbits sprinkled throughout the film and a really misplaced (but interesting) bit about competitive play.

Through the Windmill is worth seeing. The innovative new courses and classic old ones are fun to see.  The interviews are quirky and fun.  And you’ll learn some stuff!  Do you know the difference between mini golf and Putt Putt?  I didn’t.  Have you heard of guffle board? I hadn’t. And if that’s not enough for you, the Walker golf course is featured toward the end of the film and there are some very Minnesotan interviewees. We’re a delightful breed, us Minnesotans.

Oh, and look forward to an hour and a half of understated carnival tunes playing under the entire movie. 😉


Check out what TCFF 2018 has in store for TUESDAY!

2018 TCFF Red Carpet Interview + Review of ‘When Jeff Tried to Save the World’

Wow, can’t believe we’ve pretty much the halfway point of TCFF already! But hey, there are still five more days of film festivities… great movies to see, film stuff to learn and more filmmakers to meet!

Well, one of the highlights of TCFF coverage happened on Friday night, just before the festive INDUSTRY NIGHT began at the TCFF Can Can Wonder-Lounge. My dear friend and longtime FlixChatter contributor Holly Peterson was FC’s media correspondent for the night! She interviewed filmmaker Kendall Goldberg & actor Jon Heder (remember Napoleon Dynamite back in 2014?) about their new film When Jeff Tried to Save the World on the red carpet!


Here are some pics from Day 3 of TCFF – including INDUSTRY NIGHT

 

TCFF Lounge is sponsored by the fabulous Can Can Wonderland in St. Paul, MN.


When Jeff Tried to Save the World

It’s weird to call a movie about a grown man a coming of age film, but in a lot of ways, When Jeff Tried to Save the World feels like exactly that. Jeff (played very charmingly by Jon Heder) is a bowling alley manager who must come to terms with his future when the owner decides to sell the bowling alley. The stress of losing the one steady thing in his life is exacerbated by his sister’s unannounced visit – which might just wind up being exactly what he needed.

This is a fun movie. The writing is full of one-liners that had our entire theater giggling constantly. Steve Berg, Maya Erskine, and Brendan Meyer all had especially fun roles, which all three of them leaned into really well. Jim O’Heir was very miscast as the jerk owner who is closing down the bowling alley. There is too much Jerry Gergich in that man’s face for him to play the villain – no matter how tame that villain may be.

Taos Whittaker created some amazing visual effects for this film, which are most brilliantly showcased in one of Jeff’s dreams when he’s suddenly walking through a Tron themed version of the bowling alley. It is absolutely gorgeous. Whittaker also played a huge role in creating the underlying tone of anxiety in several scenes with nifty tricks like turning Heder’s hands yellow.

Personally, I disliked the romantic side-story. It was a little too “man and woman who have never met before cannot exist in the same room without falling in love for no reason” and, although it fit in with the general coming of age theme of the movie, it felt forced.

This is one of Kendall Goldberg’s first features, and it is a solid first. Goldberg has a strong comedic voice and the ability to reinvent an old trope in a new, relevant way. I think that as Goldberg grows as a storyteller the less neat elements (the fact that she caved in on that unnecessarily romantic side-story, the neat summary three quarters of the way through the movie that took place in a completely unnecessary argument, and her tendency to approach sentimental moments in the most conventional way possible) will likely improve as she continues to write and direct and is increasingly able to use her own voice. I’m excited to see what she makes next.


Thanks Holly for the review and interview,
and for TCFF + Allied Global Marketing for the opportunity!

2018 TCFF Reviews – Across The Waters and The Testament

We’re almost the halfway point of TCFF 2018 and today we’ve got a pair of reviews of two powerful, beautifully-told WWII-themed films.

Thank you Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival for sponsoring both films!


Reviews by Holly Peterson

ACROSS THE WATERS
(Fuglene Over Sundet)

Director: Nicolo Donato
Writers: Per Daumiller, Nicolo Donato

Across the Waters is a pertinent reminder about how quickly a normal life can evaporate and become something unrecognizable. The film, a dramatic retelling of the initial descent of German troops into Denmark during WWII, follows a Jewish family, the Itkins, as they attempt to flee to Sweden. The viewer meets the little family immediately before they realize that their city is no longer safe for them and follows the trio as they lose and find each other time and time again.

The sense of urgency inherent in a story of escape lends a good speed to the storytelling in Across the Waters. In the midst of the underlying panic, writers Per Daumiller and Nicolo Donato create several beautiful portraits of villagers, all of whom respond to the refugees differently. Some take advantage of them, some would take advantage of them if they were braver, some turn a blind eye to the need, some philosophize about doing the right thing but do not follow through.

Each portrait could easily be a standalone story, but instead their climactic highlights are offered as one more strand in the web the Itkin’s must escape . Most stories have a foil. One character will harness the willpower to stand for their values despite the personal cost, and the next will fail.  One character will let their fear drive them to criminality. The next will not.  If nothing else the film constantly reminds us that some of us will do the right thing and others will not.  Neither is inevitable. 

Performances were stunning across the board, but Danica Curcic as Miriam Itkin, Lars Brygmann as Pastor Kjeldgaard, and Katrine Ferdinansen as Laura Bro were especially stunning.

The imagery in Across the Waters is gorgeous, but ultimately distracting.  Too much of the story is told through close ups, shaky cam, and shots that are artistically cut in half with doorways, light flares, and foliage. It is difficult to take in what is happening visually, and although the intention of many of the artistic choices is clear, those intentions didn’t make me any less nauseous trying to follow a handheld extreme close up.

This is the perfect film for those of you who are looking for something to pull at your heartstrings, stir up conversation, or maybe even serve as a call to action.


THE TESTAMENT

Director: Amichai Greenberg
Writer: Amichai Greenberg

The Testament is about Yoel, a practicing Jew and historian, who must convince the leadership of his small town to stop development of land on which he believes there is a grave containing the bodies of some 200 Jewish men, women, and children. Fighting against the clock, Yoel struggles to find evidence of the mass grave and, in his search for that truth, he also realizes that there are secrets of his own with which he needs to reconcile.

The multi-layered storytelling by Amichai Greenberg in The Testament is perfectly executed. It is part small town murder mystery, part historical drama, and part hero’s journey. Each of these three stories is complex, full of rich characters, and informative to the other plot-lines. The writing is tight, fast-paced, and emotional.

Ori Pfeffer puts on a spectacular performance as Yoel. He creates a character who is thoroughly unlikable but completely empathetic: a man who alienates everyone and yet has an agenda so important that even though we kind of hate him, we also want him to be successful, and any distaste completely dissolves when he finally reaches his breaking point.

Technically, The Testament is skillfully executed. Sound design is effective, with the exception of a two person scene in a forest that had a backing track of mumbling voices. I’m sure the voices were supposed to create tension, but it was just disorienting. Most of the cinematographic choices favor functionality, which makes the occasional artistic flair land even better. One of my personal favorite shots is at the very beginning of the movie, when Yoel is walking up to an old church, which is framed just off center. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but not only was that a gorgeous shot, it also might have been a wink to the audience regarding a later plot point.

Do not miss this film. It is a personal, historical story that begs its audience to consider their relationship with truth, religion, and how fervently we choose to fight for our own ideals. What happens when the truth that one is raised on turns out to be a falsehood? How much of religion is passed on inter-generationally and how much of it is inherent to the individual? When should one compromise and when should one fight?


Check out what TCFF 2018 has in store for MONDAY!

  • 3:45 PM – The Push
  • 4 PM – Special Ed (Filmmaker In Attendance)
  • 5:30 PM – Change The Outcome
  • 6 PM – Saving Flora (Actors/Filmmakers In Attendance) –
    USA Premiere
  • 6:30 PM – The Lumber Baron (Filmmaker In Attendance)
  • 7:00 PM – Sadie 8:30 PM
  • 9:15 PM – We Can Relate (Shorts Block)
  • 9:20 PM – All Square

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: RICH KIDS & interview w/ filmmaker Laura Somers

One of the things I love most about blogging for Twin Cities Film Fest is getting the opportunity to see so many indie gems, as well as insights about making them from the filmmakers themselves. Filmmaker Laura Somers has been such a personal inspiration to me as a newbie filmmaker from the moment I reached out to her to do this interview. For the past four years, day in and day out, she somehow found the energy to push herself to get her film out there. “It’s a crazy form of dedication.” she says, and I can totally relate.

This film has been making ways in various film festivals and rightly so. Such a thematically-rich film (pun intended) with a talented young cast, plus diversity in front AND behind the camera. What’s not to like?

A group of troubled teens from a low-income community break into “Los Ricos”, the local mansion with a border fence, and spend the day pretending to be rich in order to forget their difficult lives.

Twin Cities Film Fest Screening:

Sunday October 21st – 10:10 AM

Q&A with filmmaker Laura Somers

Q1. Before I go into the film itself, I’d like to ask you about your filmmaking background. What makes you want to be a cinematic storyteller?

I have been making films since I was five. My mom and dad bought an 8mm camera and we used to write scripts and act and my parents would shoot and edit them. I got hooked early on, and it’s always been a part of my life. I ended up directing theater for a long time before I decided that for me the stage felt like it wasn’t enough. The biggest obstacle for theater to me is limited audience reach. Being an indie theater director often means short runs in one city – now as a filmmaker my work can live forever and travel around the world – for better or worse!

Whenever I talk to a filmmaker, I’m always interested in what inspires them to make this particular film. How did you come across this screenplay that’s based on an actual event?

The idea for Rich Kids came out of an incident that happened in the neighborhood I grew up in. Our road cut through two completely different neighborhoods, one, a low-income working class neighborhood and the other, an upper middle class neighborhood. Although the road was only eight feet wide, the divide was clear as day.

My house was on the edge of the upper middle class neighborhood at the road. It was a beautiful, ostentatious fortress built incongruously in the neighborhood. The house was a neighborhood legend that the locals spun stories about. School friends and kids in the neighborhood were always breaking in to get a look inside. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own, did I grow to appreciate what that house represented to people who didn’t even have a house. The luxury and tranquility it offered. An escape from the hardships of life.

A few years ago, a group of kids broke into the house. Evidence left behind tells us that these kids lived in the house for a few days, having one hell of a time before it ended in tragedy. We turn on the local news and see stories like theirs all the time. And many people just think, “Well, they were bad kids,” change the channel, and forget about them. But I knew kids from this community, they were my friends. I wanted to use this opportunity to give those kids a voice.

The story speaks about economic and perhaps racial disparity amongst youth, which is a timely subject in today’s climate. Yet the title signifies that ‘richness’ isn’t always about money/materialism. How did you/your team come up with that?

The title was literally the first thing I came up with. It was just the obvious choice. At that time I really only took it as face value – that poor kids were pretending to be rich. The dual meaning grew organically out of the whole process – the writing, the crowdfunding, the acting, the editing, the music. Everyone that has touched this film approached it with so much dignity, so much love for the story and the characters – the themes evolved and presented themselves as we went along. It was truly a magical experience.

What’s the biggest challenge you as a filmmaker faced in bringing this story to life?

I’m a filmmaker, and I’m also a mother to a four year old. I started working on Rich Kids when my son was six months old. I’ve been a stay at home parent with him this entire time, and my husband and I don’t have any family near us in Los Angeles to support us and we couldn’t afford regular childcare. So for the last several years I’ve been juggling these two worlds – new motherhood and indie filmmaker-hood – two dreams have come true at the same time, which is such a thrill!

Since the story is based on a real event, were you able to film it in the location where it happened? If not, how was the location scout process?

We filmed in the actual house the event took place in – it was my childhood home. The location was really the push that we needed to get us going – my parents were preparing to sell the house as we were writing the script – I kept telling them – “I’m doing this film that I want to shoot in the house, but if you have to sell the house, do it – don’t let me hold you back”. So I was really moving fast to get it all done. We shot the film right as my parents hired a real estate agent and they started showing it after we wrapped. Lucky for me that agent wasn’t very good – because after we did our first edit pass, we had to come back a few months later and shoot a few extra days at the house – and it was still available. They’d gotten a new agent by then who literally sold the house a week after we wrapped that second shoot! The universe works in amazing ways sometimes.

I’m interested to hear about casting, as most of the young cast are unknowns. Is that a deliberate choice and did you do a wide casting call to find the right people?

It was a deliberate choice to work with unknowns. I just find it really exciting to discover new talent. I love their energy, they are so joyful because they’re at the beginning of their careers and that really radiates on the screen. There’s so much talk right now about the need for diversity and representing people of color on screen, about lifting each other up. This is the small part I can play in that. If any of the people who worked on Rich Kids can benefit from this film in any way, I’ll be very proud.

The casting process was amazing. I did a very wide open call, reaching out to acting teachers and agents, putting ads online everywhere, including Craigslist! I looked at a ton of people, just trying to find talent who I felt had a similar soul of the characters. My sister and I held a big group audition and we had 10-15 actors in two hour blocks and we did improv and cold readings. Then we had each person spend five minutes talk about why they felt they could relate to the story of Rich Kids and what it would mean to be in a film like it. And these amazing young people just talked and talked – they were so anxious to tell their stories. It was so cathartic for all of us. We went back and used some of the inspiration from the auditions as lines and scenes in the film. Once I’d narrowed down my favorite actors, I spent a lot of time on Skype getting to know them and letting them know me so that we could build a lot of trust and we could use our life stories to craft their performances. And the actors who were finally cast spent a lot of time getting to know each other on the phone and in person, so by the time we walked onto set, we had already built solid relationships.

DP Eun-ah Lee on the set of Rich Kids

What’s your favorite parts about filming? Is this the first time you work with a primarily young cast?

I love working with actors! I really have fun guiding them to great performances, helping them see a moment or movement that they hadn’t considered before. I love all the emotion that gets poured into their craft and I enjoy emoting along with them. I’ve worked many times with a young cast, their creative energy is always invigorating and inspiring to me.

Lastly, what would you like the audience to come away with after watching your film?

Simply that they feel like they’ve been on a really good journey. They walked in as one person and left as another. And they’re excited about what kind of film we’re going to make next.

Check out some exclusive BTS photos from the set
(Thank you Laura!)


Follow RICH KIDS journey online:


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Laura Somers for chatting with FlixChatter!